Vancouver gallery becomes finalist for Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize

The Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver became a finalist of the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP) at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a biennial award recognizing excellence in built works of architecture in the Americas.

The award program was initiated at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2012 in Chicago. According to the program’s website: “MCHAP defines excellence in a holistic sense: it evaluates how works of architecture integrate natural, built, and human ecologies to enhance the quality of the places where we live. Grounded by an awareness of the present, MCHAP optimistically points to the future.”

For the Polygon Gallery, which is a revival of the Presentation House Gallery, an independent photography and media institution in North Vancouver for more than forty years, the client’s requirements were for an obstacle-free exhibition space with floors and walls to be cut down for exhibition purposes, universal access to power and media, and versatile lighting.

The result, designed by Vancouver-based Patkau Architects Inc., is a 2,099-m2 (22,600-sf) building at the edge of the waterfront, contributing to the site rather than responding to it. Replacing the Marine Tugboat Works Yard and surface parking, the development acts as a site-maker, enabling connection building and engagement, while paying homage to a longstanding public art institution.

To provide easy access to a new public plaza and an unobstructed view of the Vancouver skyline, the main body of the building is elevated from the ground level. The iconic saw-toothed shape of the building is covered in multiple layers of mirrored stainless steel and expanded aluminum decking, creating a play of light and shadow that changes with the season and time of day. When looking north, visitors can see the expanding downtown core of North Vancouver, as well as the towering peaks of the Pacific Coastal Range beyond it. The use of these materials gives the building a unique and fleeting depth that adds to its overall esthetic appeal.

The upper-level gallery was designed as a creative studio with a clear space that is completely daylit from above. The space was also required to have universal access to power and media, and flexible lighting options which can either simulate natural light or be controlled. As a result, the main gallery on the upper level is designed more akin to a studio than a traditional museum.

The building’s structural framework serves a dual purpose of elevating the gallery and providing a spacious area that is fully illuminated with diffused northern light from above.

A set of steel purlins serve as guide for lighting, data, media, suspended works, and temporary partitions. The oak flooring is sturdy and can be easily repaired, with a central channel allowing for easy access to services and connections to installations of any type. The upper level of the gallery also includes a spacious event gallery that is highly adaptable, making it suitable for education, outreach, and private functions. On the western side, there are administrative offices located alongside the event gallery. The southern wall of the event gallery is made up of operable glazed panels offering a panoramic view of Burrard Inlet and Vancouver.

The community can experience this iconic building from both the adjacent plaza and interior spaces on the ground level. The entrance, lobby, gift shop, and cafe are enclosed by full-glass walls, providing the public access to appealing views of the artwork and artifacts inside. Technical support areas are located directly below the administrative offices to minimize any disruptions to the back-of-house operations. These detailed street-level features make the building a magnet for the increasing social scene on the city’s waterfront and connect the gallery’s energy with the public space.

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